A Q&A with Chelsea Davis

Over the past year, I've had the pleasure of knowing Chelsea Davis, an artist and musician as well as a friend. Just over a week ago, Chelsea launched a Kickstarter to fund an EP with songs written by her and our friend Ana Sanchez. As someone who thinks a lot about the creative life, and what it looks like to live out of our identity as image bearers of a Creator, I thought I'd take a moment to grill her (in writing) about what it's like to be Chelsea Davis.

So, Chelsea Davis, what is it that you do?

I try to understand my experiences of people, places, and things. Generally, this involves a lot of quiet time followed by a lot of talking out loud. Occasionally somewhere in the middle, I find words to name my experiences, and then I sing about them.

When and how did you realize that music was your passion?

I just watched an embarrassing home video of my 4th birthday. Apparently someone brought a karaoke machine, and I refused to share the mic with any of the other kids.

Seriously though, I loved all things performing and artistic when I was growing up. I chose to attend a different high school than my friends to study musical theater, but I had a negative experience trying to fit in there and ended up transferring. Things went downhill for a couple years (as they do when you’re 15 and the world is a terrible horrible no good very bad place.) I minimized my love of performing to be accepted by my boyfriend & peers. I really wasn’t myself for quite awhile. It felt like a part of me just died.  

I went to college to become an English teacher and had enough transfer credits my freshman year to basically take whatever classes I wanted to---and I never left the music building. I pursued a degree in music therapy and ended up teaching elementary music for 5 years.  

Then in 2009 I developed a stress-related illness that was semi-debilitating. I started to re-evaluate how I was spending my time. I discovered that I was spending so much time working in music-related fields, I didn’t have the time or energy to create my own music or perform. Getting sick was a definite wake-up call that something needed to change.

Then in 2010, I was sitting in church and the speaker asked, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Turn to the person next to you and share.” I turned to my left and blurted out, “I would be a professional singer.” No one could’ve been more surprised than me.

A few months later, I made plans to leave my full-time teaching job to pursue singing & songwriting.

How does your day to day life look differently than it would otherwise because of your creative pursuits? What are your rhythms?

My natural habitat is creative chaos, and I’m a very circular thinker, so I sometimes have a hard time organizing myself. Every day is different, but my weeks have a pretty good flow to them. In my weekly rhythm, there are some essentials for me to be able to live well & create well:

1)     quiet, uninterrupted, journaling time almost every day  
2)     having individual time with my two closest friends for 3-4 hours
3)     counseling once a week
4)     eating at regular intervals (a real struggle if I’m in the middle of something)
5)     doing yoga 4-5 time a week really helps me care for myself emotionally so I can focus
6)     daily bedtime ritual with my husband where we do the Examen practice to evaluate what was life-giving during the day, and then we read aloud.
7)     If I’m writing, particularly blogging, I’m best in the morning
8)     If I’m singing, I’m best in the afternoon\evening (warmed up)

Depending on the phase of a creative project I’m in, the rhythm really shifts. For example, right now we’re in this huge fundraising push for the Kickstarter, so I’m spending 10-12 hours of my day glued to my computer. NOT ideal. I can’t wait to get back to my normal groove.  

From where do you get your inspiration?

When I was young, my internal experience of the world didn’t match the shiny veneer that was being painted for me by my family and in my church. I found that gap very confusing, and I think I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to name my experiences in order to validate them—to create an external representation of them so that the world makes sense. I was hungry for honesty and integrity, and I think that comes through in my work. I don’t really brush things under the rug.  

If you had a daughter, what's the one thing you would want her to learn from your life?

How to live boldly and imperfectly, without shame.  

If you had a son, what's the one thing you would want him to learn from your life?

How to treat women with respect and dignity, and use his power, privilege and gifts to lift up other people.

What's your most extravagant wish for your music?

I really want to have a song on So You Think You Can Dance. I think I would weep for days.

What's your most humble wish for your music?

That whoever hears it and resonates with it will be moved to greater vulnerability in their own life. I want it to heal people, break shame, give courage to name experiences, and help people hold on when it’s really hard.  

Let's say you were going to go away for a month somewhere, to an ideal location, with the end goal being to have written a handful of new songs. What would that place look like?

Oooooh!!! Great question. I would love to go to a farm somewhere in the Midwest or South. I’m from Kentucky originally, so I imagine it would be two-story rickety farmhouse with big old windows overlooking a huge yard and trees for miles. There would be quilts and rocking chairs and a screened in porch or solarium, and a piano, of course. We’d be far enough away that we’d have to drive into town. It would probably be late spring or early fall, to miss the humidity. That sounds lovely, only made more unrealistically ideal if a couple friends could still visit every few days for lemonade and fresh berries and listening to cicadas together. 

Tell us about Kickstarter. What's the deal?

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website for people who have a creative project to raise money to fund their idea. It’s a platform for people who want to make something, be it an album, an invention, a play, etc. You set a funding goal, and if you don’t meet that goal within 30 days, all the Backers get their money refunded, and you get $0. It’s an all-or-nothing deal.  
My current project is the album “Caged Bird”, which I co-wrote with spoken word artist Ana Sanchez. I’m using my performance platform as an opportunity to raise awareness about some of those things that we tend to brush under the rug—sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking.

We launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the album on Tuesday, June 24, and as of right now, we’ve raised over $12K in 3 days*. Our goal was $15K to record a 6 song album with Grammy-winning executive producer Bill Cunliffe. It’s going so well, we might set a stretch goal of $25K and see if we can make a FULL LENGTH version of “Caged Bird.” I’m pretty excited. You can watch a short video & hear the music here:

*Update: The "Caged Bird" Kickstarter project reached full funding after only 6 days! You can add to the support through the link above. The backer perks are incredible, the music beautiful, and the cause noble. 
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